I am deeply saddened to share the news of the passing of my dear friend—educator and activist Jim Hirabayashi on May 23, 2012. Jim will always hold a special place in the history and memories of Museum staff, volunteers, and leadership. As our dynamic and visionary Founding Scholar and Curator Emeritus, he established the philosophical foundation of the Museum that continues to guide our work today.
During the opening of the Museum’s landmark exhibition, America’s Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese American Experience in 1994, controversy arose over the Museum’s use of the term “concentration camp.” As a Harvard-trained anthropologist, Jim was adamant that U.S. history be examined accurately without euphemisms, and argued that the term “relocation center” was actually a euphemism used by governmental officials to strip Japanese Americans of their basic constitutional rights (see Hirabayashi’s essay, “Concentration Camp” or “Relocation Center —What’s in a Name?).
In more recent years, Jim served as the Chief Project Advisor for the Museum’s International Nikkei Research Project, and was Co-Editor for one of the project’s resulting publications, New Worlds, New Lives: Globalization and People of Japanese Descent in the Americas and from Latin America in Japan. At our 2008 National Conference in Denver, CO, Jim presented a dramatic reading on the complex choices faced by Nisei families during WWII from his piece, Four Hirabayashi Cousins: A Question of Identity.
The Museum and our community owe a great deal to Jim, who along with his late brother, Gordon, and now his son Lane, have devoted their lives to educating others by taking a stand for their principles with integrity and unwavering commitment.
Jim will be deeply missed for his remarkable wit, intellectual insight, charismatic spirit, and humble character. On behalf of the Museum family, I send our heartfelt condolences to the Hirabayashi family during this difficult time.
For more about Jim Hirabayashi, view clips filmed for Jim’s recognition at the Museum’s 2004 Annual Gala Dinner on our Discover Nikkei site.
[Posted on behalf of Nancy Araki, JANM Director of Community Affairs and long-time personal friend of Jim Hirabayashi]